5 Rules of Elegant Logo Design

Published by Nela Dunato on at 05:53 in Graphic design, Branding

When I ask my clients in the beginning of my logo design process to choose up to five aesthetic qualities that are the most important for their brand, the quality clients most often select is “elegant”. We can all tell something is elegant when we see it, but what specific graphic design choices create this effect?

5 Rules of Elegant Logo Design

In this article, I’ve explained the 5 most important guidelines that result in elegant logo designs. There are exceptions to each of these rules because we sometimes need to balance aesthetic qualities that are seemingly on the opposite ends of the spectrum. When that happens, usually elegance will be highlighted through a different part of the design. That said, this is always a good starting point.

1. Elegant brand identities have restricted color palettes

The most elegant color combination is black and white, especially white letters on black backgrounds. This combo is often used in brands of luxury products such as cars, watches, and jewelry, sometimes with a hint of gold or silver.

Elegant law firm logo design in muted colors
Muted color palette of a law firm logo and brand identity

That doesn’t mean that elegant brands should not use chromatic (rainbow) colors at all. Your brand will be more easily distinguished from competitors if it features a main color that is distinct from what everyone else uses. However, the overall color palette should lean towards muted/monochromatic, with one strongly saturated color at most.

Elegant logo design and brand identity - Muted color palettes are more elegant than colorful palettes

Any color can be elegant in the right context, but some are more difficult to combine in that way. While dark gray, navy blue, beige, and dark purple are quite elegant in and of themselves, neon green and bright red are not known for that. If you choose a bright, saturated color for your palette, use it only for the accents, but never on large areas if you want to appear elegant.

Elegant law firm logo and monogram design by Nela Dunato
Elegant brand identity palette with an accent color
The logo and brand identity of an IP law firm features a strong accent color, but the rest of the palette is neutral

This brand identity features a strong warm accent color in the monogram, but it's always surrounded by neutral colors. A dark, cool, non-saturated color dominates the brand applications, and this is emphasized in the brand style guide so that no one makes the mistake on using the coral red color on a large surface.

2. Elegant logos use a single font style

The fewer fonts you include in the logo design, the more elegant it looks. While there are exceptions, you really need to ask yourself: is it really necessary to add another font? What will that accomplish, and how will it impact the perception of elegance?

Elegant logo design - One font is more elegant than multiple fonts

An exception that I see quite often is combining a script font for one word in the name, and a sans-serif for another smaller word below it. That can look good, if perhaps overly trendy.

Elegant logo with a script and sans serif font combination
An example of the script + sans serif combination in a logo design by Andrea Binski

The overall brand identity can and should have more than one typeface in several font styles, because one font alone would look too dull. Usually we use one font on headings and pull-quotes, and another font in paragraphs, lists, tables, and other smaller text. But for the logo itself, less is definitely more.

3. Thinner fonts appear more elegant than thick ones

A font that is thinner in weight (normal, light, or extra light) will appear more elegant than a thick one (bold, black, or extra black). But be careful, because logos that are too thin are difficult to read at small sizes.

Elegant logo design - Thin fonts are more elegant than thick ones

The exceptions are high-contrast serif, sans-serif, and script fonts which somehow manage to be both bold and elegant at the same time, and are frequently used in fashion magazines. The logo I made for a hospitality consultant is like that because the client wanted it to be elegant, yet bold. (She’s also a fashionable woman with an elegant style, so the subtle nod to fashion magazines was intentional.)

Elegant high contrast font in a logo design

Thick and chunky logos make an impact, but they are not considered elegant.

4. Elegant logos feature simple graphic symbols

The most elegant-looking symbols are silhouettes and single-color line drawings. They’re also easy to reproduce in any medium: digital apps, offset printing, screen printing, embroidery, laser-cutting, etching...

If a logo mark has too much detail, it starts looking more like an illustration. Usually organization emblems (like government organizations, universities, or sports teams) don’t look elegant since they’re too complex. Thankfully, in recent years many organizations realized the importance of using simple icons in digital media, and have started simplifying their old-fashioned emblems.

Redesigned elegant Ruckl logo symbol versus the old emblem
Family-owned glassmaking company Rückl redesigned their traditional stork emblem in 2017, and this new version looks fabulous both on their website and their glassware.

Creating symbols that are unique, easy to recognize, yet simple is not an easy task. Take too much away, and it can look too bland. Add to much detail, and it’s a mess. It takes a lot of skill to achieve the perfect balance of character and simplicity.

5. Elegant logos don’t use graphic “effects”

Many young designers go through a phase of adding Illustrator effects to their designs so they look more “impressive”, such as reflections, drop shadows, gradients, 3D extrusion, etc. But it’s not very impressive. It often looks cheap and tacky, which is the opposite of elegant.

Clever design solutions are rarely achieved through automatic effects found within the design software, but instead carefully constructed by hand. Even if a logo feature a kind of shadow, mirror, or a 3D effect, it’s probably not the default effect you’ll find in Illustrator.

Old Toyota logo with a 3D effect and the new simplified logo design
Car manufacturers are moving away from the skeuomorphic 3D metal hood ornament look, and simplifying their logos to solid shapes.

Elegance is usually achieved by removing all superfluous details that do not add to the meaning of the logo. There may be times when an extra flair is required, but we need to ask ourselves whether the logo will truly be better for it.

Is elegance a must for every logo?

Elegance is just one of many potential aesthetic brand qualities, and it’s not always the one we need to strive for. Logo design choices depend on the brand’s core values, unique value proposition, brand voice, and target audience.

There is no single aesthetic quality that is the right choice for every brand. That said, if elegance is in your top five brand qualities, now you know how to achieve it.

For more graphic design tips, check out my article: Top 11 Easy-to-fix Beginner Design Mistakes (with visual examples)

Looking for an elegant logo design for your business?

Brand identity design that makes your clients go Wow

I help consulting companies increase their visibility and impact with my signature human-centered branding approach. For more information on how we can work together, check out my brand identity design services.

Nela

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


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